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Jets? Playoffs? It's up to you, New York

Mark Sanchez #8 of the New York Jets

Mark Sanchez #8 of the New York Jets celebrates a touchdown during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts. *December 27, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

They've been handed enough lives to make even the unluckiest of felines question how the Jets keep resurrecting themselves from the dead.

Just about every time a shovel of dirt was tossed on the Jets' playoff hopes, they somehow bounced back and heaved a spadeful of soil right back at the naysayers. And now, after riding an emotional wave during the last month that probably would've left even the most avid roller-coaster fanatic a bit queasy, the Jets control their own fate.

A win over the Bengals Sunday night in what likely will be the final game at Giants Stadium would vault the Jets (8-7) into the playoffs, ending a two-year drought and capping a regular season that went in different directions at differen times - 3-0, 1-6 and 4-1.

"I definitely feel that we earned this right," Rex Ryan said. "When you go back and look at it, are we fortunate to be in this because of our record? I would say yeah, absolutely. But you look at some of the games we lost, the game was sitting there right in front of us and we never got it done in several games. To lose on the last play of the game in four games, maybe it balanced out a little bit. I think we've earned the right to be right where we're at.

"If we win this thing, we're in and we would deserve it. If not, then obviously, it wasn't meant to be."

Said linebacker Bart Scott, "This is the most important game in my young Jets career, also Rex Ryan's. If we can pull this thing off and get into the playoffs, we've got something to stand on, we've got something to measure ourself against. It's a blessing to get into the playoffs every year."

This is the type of game that sets up for the ultimate letdown for Jets fans, considering their team has tormented them so many times in such spots. The scenario almost seems too good to be true: The game doesn't mean much to the Bengals (10-5), who already have won the AFC North title. They aren't expected to play their starters long and probably won't reveal too much, given that if the Jets win, the teams are likely to face each other again in the wild-card round next week.

So that should pave the way for the Jets to walk right through the playoff door, but their fans are waiting for what some believe will be the inevitable slip.

"I don't think they should be holding their breath," right guard Brandon Moore said. "I think they should come out excited. It's our last game there, it's for getting into the playoffs. So the hesitation should not be there. It won't be from us."

Some players, such as linebacker Calvin Pace, have been bubbling over with emotion all week as they anticipate the nationally televised contest. Pace, who is in the same boat as the likes of Darrelle Revis and Braylon Edwards, has yet to get a taste of the postseason.

"At this point of time in my career, it sucks, to be honest with you," Pace said. "The fact is in this league, you are not judged by how much money you make, how many Pro Bowls you go to. It's about winning games, and at some point in time, you kind of realize that you can't play forever and your opportunities dwindle down. Sunday will be a special day for me and I'm just trying to get in."

Pace's frustration was even more apparent when he brought up the Cardinals, with whom he spent his first five seasons. "The team I used to play for made it to the Super Bowl. Out of all the places in the world . . . "

Still, Pace can get his shot, too, provided the Jets knock off the Bengals. That's the only way the Jets can get a crack at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, because a loss would end their season. They can't get in unless they win.

"We have no one else to blame but ourselves if we can't get the job done," Scott said. "We don't have to depend on anybody else. A couple of weeks ago, we were depending on a lot of people and all those things happened. We have to take advantage of it. We had the opportunity to really propel ourselves within the last month and we haven't got the job done. But it's one of those funny seasons where we still have an opportunity and you've got to take advantage of the opportunity in front of you."

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